25 • 08 • 2017

The Mysterious and Healing Common Stinkhorn

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Probably anyone who has ever visited a forest has noticed that our land is rich in mushrooms - more than a thousand species of mushrooms can be found in Latvia. However, at least thirty species, once eaten, cause severe poisoning. In turn, only a few dozen of species are generally accepted as edible, and the majority of these edible mushroom species can only be used in food after careful processing.

Common Stinkhorn or phallus impudicus also belongs to these edible species. In Latvian forests, carpophores (fruiting bodies) of this mushroom can be found from late June until October, but if we are lucky to have a warm autumn, they can be spotted even in November.

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Each common stinkhorn carpophore develops through two stages. In the first stage, it is round, covered with a white, elastic shell. In the round formation, there is a germ of the next stage. The development of the "egg" takes place in topsoil. Taking a closer look at this carpophore, one will see mushroom strings at the bottom part of the formation. When the round fruiting body reaches a definite stage of development, its shell cracks - and the second stage of the development of the common stinkhorn begins. A porous, hollow, cylindrical, yellow-white or white receptacle or carrier grows through the crack area. In the second stage of the receptacle, if the microclimate is favourable, the common stinkhorn grows extremely fast; therefore it is included in the Guinness Book of Records. The size of this new formation usually correlates with the size of the former "egg" before it breaks: the greater the fruit has been, the greater it develops in the carrier stage. Some specimens can even exceed 30 cm in length and 4 cm in diameter. At the top of the carrier, which is slightly narrowed, a bell-shaped hat, covered with a mucous olive green gleba, develops. The cap is covered with an irregular cellular netting, where under the gleba, a basidium with spores starts developing.

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In Latvia, the common stinkhorn may be found in many different places; however, it is more likely to be spotted in the second half of the summer and in the autumn, in mixed and deciduous forest stands, where there are predatory animals. It is because these animals attract insects that feed on dead animal bodies - leftovers from carnivore meals.  The gleba covering the cap of the common stinkhorn receptacle smells like a dead animal body. The insects fall upon the mushroom's gleba and feed on it. Each insect, when rustling on the common stinkhorn, inadvertently collects the spores of the mushroom, and then spreads them around in places where there are animal remains. These insects are the most important spreaders of the common stinkhorn. When insects have eaten the entire dark coloured gleba, the mushroom cap gets the same colour as its stem.  

People pick the common stinkhorn while it is still in the ovary stage. In order not to continue development, the picked up "eggs" must be cut in at their bottom part over the place from which the mushroom strings start. To keep them fresh longer, it is necessary to store mushrooms in a cool place.

The common stinkhorn has long been known in folk medicine, because of the therapeutic substances that they contain. The spectrum of its curative effects is very wide; therefore, it is often compared to a miracle cure, which in the course of treatment can undoubtedly also cause a placebo effect.

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Facts about the curative properties of the common stinkhorn can even be found in Ancient China, where it was believed that this mushroom is able to treat tumours. In the Roman Empire, a "love drink" was made from the common stinkhorn to improve potency. Later, this miraculous mushroom was used in Europe to cure diseases of the skin and internal organs. In folk medicine, it is widely used throughout the world today; various common stinkhorn preparations are also used in modern medicine. Laboratories obtain common stinkhorn tincture, produce gels and creams. Most often the common stinkhorn is used for the treatment of tumours. It is known that it liquefies blood, increases the immune capacity and protects against certain infections; it is able to replace female hormones, and is therefore used in the treatment of myoma, ovarian cyst and mastopathy. Preparations of this mushroom are also applied to cure kidney diseases and ailments of other internal organs.

Also people in Latvia pick the common stinkhorn, first and foremost, in order to use it for the treatment and prevention of diseases, including tumours. Picking this mushroom for consumption has always been and still remains a secondary objective.